Eating Out 1: Nai Meng in Bangkok

Hello everyone and happy New Year and all that jazz! It has been a while but I’m back with a quick post that will be sure to tempt the taste buds and kick off a new feature I’ll be running on the blog.

Eating Out with cover the food porn I come across along my travels and while it will focus on cheap eats for the backpacker at heart or just budget conscious, from time to time I’ll post about more upscale joints.

What better way to start off this series than a post set in the backpacker capital of SE Asia; Bangkok.  With the help of my viisting childhood Taiwanese friend and her desire to sample the delights of Bangkok without breaking the bank, she found us a super little Chinese/Thai noodle shop that packs a punch above it’s weight in the value and taste departments.  The restaurant, called Nai Meng, is situated near the Sala Daeng BTS station and is truly the definition of a hidden gem.

It is located near exit 3 (I believe!!) and if you weren’t looking for it you would just walk right past this unassuming place as I most definitely would have if it weren’t for my friend’s keen eye.  Inside you are greeted on the right by the staff as they prepare the noodles and other dishes right in front of you.

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Such is the popularity with the locals that you may have to wait to get a seat but boy is it worth the wait!  Upon sitting down we were offered a menu, with English translations, and very quickly you see the wide range of selections as the menu has two sides and with the vast majority of the selections in the 40 to 60 baht range (a little over a pound or under $2USD!)

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Personally I’m a carnivore at heart and went for a more meat heavy offering with different kinds of pork, and rice topped off with a brown soy based sauce(?) that also came with a bowl of chicken broth.  Either way it was super delicious and as a side dish I added pork dumplings.  All together this mouth watering meal came to a total of around 90 baht!

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SO, if you’re in the downtown Bangkok area near Sala Daeng, I HIGHLY recommend this sweet little place.  The prices were great, we were served swiftly, there was a large selection of dishes, and the portion of the main dish with the side of dumplings was perfect for me as someone who likes to eat a fair bit. This place really is ideal for those wanting breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Check it out and let me know how it goes!

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A Month of Muay Thai

Muay Thai, the art of the eight limbs.  Before coming to Thailand I didn’t know much about muay Thai besides it coming from Thailand.  I’d seen clips of muay Thai fights on YouTube and I’d seen MMA knockouts using Muay Thai techniques but I had no interest in it.

Then one day in Korea, while I was getting over a break up and having trouble at work, I Skyped with a friend of mine who had left Korea to go backpacking and was now in northern Thailand in a town called Pai doing a month of Muay Thai training.  Intrigued, I asked to know more about it and everything he told me just made me want to go there and do it myself.  I’d been doing ultimate frisbee to stay active but I knew it would not compare in the slightest to the intensity of muay Thai.  I thereafter decided that this was a challenge I wanted and that could help to rebuild my confidence, get fit, make new friends, and hopefully enable me to defend myself on my travels.  This post is about my experience and what you should expect from attending a month long intensive muay Thai camp.

Who goes to a muay Thai camp in Thailand?

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in people who were at the camp I chose to go to.  There were people like me; a complete newbie to the sport but choosing to better one’s self after a trying personal ordeal, professionals who had dozens of fights under their belt, backpackers who’d come for a day or two just for the experience, people who had weight or fitness issues and looked to the intensity of muay Thai as an answer, and those who wanted to train intensely for a few months before culminating in a fight to test themselves.  Anyone can go to a muay Thai camp and enjoy it, ladies included.  Don’t be discouraged from going there and fearing that you might be surrounded by hardcore fitness fanatics who will make your efforts look pathetic, the truth is everyone goes to a camp with their own goals and I found the atmosphere very friendly and inclusive.

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What camp to choose?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of muay Thai camps all over Thailand to choose from.  Choices range from the most basic of camps out in the middle of nowhere and limited to a few fighters, all the way up to a place like the Tiger Muay Thai & MMA gym in Phuket and now Chiang Mai where the equipment and trainers are world class but prices are at a premium.

I followed my friend’s recommendation and went to Charnchai Muay Thai in the beautiful little town of Pai.  It was perfect for me.  The trainers, led by Bee the owner, really make you feel a part of the family while you train there and create a fun, positive atmosphere for the students.  The gym itself has more of an old school vibe to it, like the gyms seen in Rocky, but they put more emphasis on technique, hard work, and preservation than fancy equipment.  I also really liked that Charnchai is well priced, meals can be included, and there are special rates for accommodations nearby for muay Thai students.  All in, I paid 15,000THB ($435USD) which is a real bargain compared to the gyms down south where prices can be in excess of $1,000USD and not include meals or accommodation.  If you’re thinking I went to this gym because it is cheap, you should taken into consideration Charnchai has featured in VICE articles in the past and most recently an article was written about the head trainer and owner, Bee, who was a champion in his time as a fighter and works hard to make new students feel welcome and enjoy their stay.  You gotta be doing something right for a major media outlet to notice you.

A typical session at Charnchai

Routines vary camp to camp but most train 6 days a week with a morning and afternoon session.   I think my experience at Charnchai was a good example of what to expect.

7:30am: Wake up, get ready, have a light snack, head over to the gym.

7:45-8:00am: Bike for 15mins or skip rope to start at 8am.  Others more dedicated than me went for runs to warm up.

8:00-8:15am: Start the day with group stretching.

8:15-8:45am: Trainers instruct students about techniques and are taken aside to work one on one with other trainers to do 3 3minute rounds of pad work.  20 push ups between each round is also expected during the one minute break between rounds.

8:45-9:15am: Bag work.  At Charnchai we did a few kicking drills then followed that up with 50 kicks for each leg followed by 100 knees.

9:15-9:30am: You find a partner and do 30 raises and sit ups on the edge of the ring.

9:30-9:45am: Clinching.  Trainers demonstrate techniques, then students practice them on each other.

9:45-10:00am: Group core exercises.  Everyone sits in a big circle and follows the trainer’s lead.  They start off with one exercise, count up to 10, then the student to their right counts up to 10, and this goes on until it has reached back to the trainer. Then the trainer switches to the next exercise.  This is arguably the most exhausting part of the workout but it feels good to see even the fittest of students sweating it out just like you.

The times and activities vary a little day by day but I’d say this is what you can expect at a typical Charnchai session.  Wednesdays and Saturdays are special as they are devoted to sparring and the first hour in the morning session is taken up by a 7km temple run through the town and up a mountain to the big white Buddha, then you head back down and run to the gym.

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How hard can it be?

VERY.  But that is what makes it worth it.  You’re not going to a muay Thai camp to have an easy time, you’re there to be pushed to your physical limits.  Personally, a few weeks before I was set to go to Pai to train I was sitting in a bar in Vang Vieng, Laos, while it absolutely bucketed outside raining, surrounded by empty beer bottles and clouds of marijuana smoke watching a muay Thai fight, and I panicked.  I thought to myself ‘I am in no shape to do this’.  But later on that evening I decided to fuck it and go anyway.  The whole point of going to a muay Thai camp for me was to be test myself and push myself further than I’d been in my whole life.

The hardest session was the first.  Feeling that there was no way I could do this twice a day, 6 days a week, for an entire month.  But I did.  I think the hardest part not physically but mentally.  You can slow down, you take a break, you don’t have to do all the work. But what you do have to do, is to keep going, to remind yourself that the pain is to get you to a better place.  Once you’ve gotten that through your mind, it gets so much easier.

After each session I felt aches, exhaustion, irritation from new mosquito bites, thirst, and hunger.  But when I sat down for the post-training meal with the other students I felt the warm feeling of satisfaction of having completed the training, of not giving up, of persevering through the pain and exhaustion.  It really wasn’t that bad when I look back at it now.

What will you gain?

Everyone has their own motivation for trying out muay Thai or committing to it completely but the gains are the same.  You will feel happier with yourself and sense of worth, you will learn discipline and determination, you will make new friends with your fellow students and trainers, you will have new stories to tell, you will gain a new appreciation for the Thai people and culture, and above all you will get fit.  What I like about doing muay Thai, or any martial art, is that it gets you active and moving while taking part in a group which I think is a better overall experience than going to a gym and lifting weights by yourself blasting music in your ears.

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I have never been a person who goes to the gym lots or have taken my fitness very serious but muay Thai has given me a sport that I thoroughly enjoy and will continue to practice.  Right now where I live in Chanthanaburi I go to a gym that has muay Thai 3-5 times a week.  It makes me happy and gives me a sense of accomplishment and is a great way to finish a day after the stresses of work.  So, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try if you’re backpacking through Thailand and even just want to give it a go for a day, it might just change your life!

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The Best Way to Teach in Thailand

Cut the middle man out

If you’re coming to Thailand to teach, or just backpacking and looking to teach for a semester to save up a bit of money to extend your travels, chances are you will find a teaching job through an agency.  Having had repeated and ongoing issues with teaching agencies here in Thailand I thought I would make the case for current and future teachers wanting to work here in Thailand why you should just go directly to the schools and cut out the agencies.  I will admit that I’m currently working with an agency but having weighed up the pros and cons I would not do so again, which led me to write this post.

Why not to work with an agency

  • MORE MONEY: Agencies regularly low ball teachers with 30,000baht a month offers but in reality the school is probably willing to pay the teacher up to 40,000 baht. This means that the agency is taking up to a quarter of your salary!!!  Agencies won’t mention to you how much they’re taking, or even that they’re actually getting money from the school as part of your salary but they are.
  • They OWN you: Not literally, but pretty close to legally, they do. Many of these agencies insert clauses in contracts that prevent teachers from working with the school once your current contract is over for a period of up to 3 years, meaning you can’t just go straight to the school and work for them. They can also insert clauses that prohibit you from communicating to the school about a problem you have with the agency, e.g. not getting paid, by making it grounds for the immediate termination of the contract.  Another way they limit your freedom is by preventing you from taking extra classes or tutoring.
  • Minimal services offered: What do agencies do?  They post job ads online, interview teachers, arrange for your visa and work permit, and then take your money without even mentioning it.  All of those services can be done by the school but is easier for them to outsource teacher recruitment and legalization of their teachers.  It literally doesn’t cost the school anything because they are sending the teacher’s salary to the agency, which then keeps a significant portion of the money for very little in return.
  • They don’t work for you: They work for the school; schools want a supply of teachers while not having to lift a finger. If you have a problem with the school, do you think the agency which is taking your money from the school is going to go out of its way to endanger a profitable relationship? I seriously doubt it.  As there are so many agencies working in Thailand, competition is fierce to provide schools with teachers and so it is prudent business sense to acquire as many clients (schools) as possible and cultivate relationships, often personal, so as to keep back the competition.  At the school in Trat I briefly worked at, the agent and the director were as thick as thieves.  The director didn’t even bother to come to me about an issue; she just talked to her friend the agent who told me I was being let go without warning.  This agent demonstrated what I mentioned earlier: agents put their long-term economic interests ahead of the short-term (you).
  • Scammers: You may see an ad posted by an agency but in reality is just an opportunist presenting themselves as an agency.  At my last school in Trat I quickly became aware that something was amiss when I went to sign the contract I saw that the contract was actually directly with the school and made no mention of an agency, or more importantly, any obligation to pay one.  This person, that I mentioned was close with the director, was simply processing visas and work permits for teachers while collecting 8,000+ baht a month for doing very little else.  The story goes on from there but as you can imagine it had a big impact on my remaining time at that school and decision to leave.

How to go direct?

  • The old fashion way; pound the pavement and drop off some resumes. I guarantee you that some of the schools will ask you to wait while they get the foreign language department director who will do a short interview.  They may even offer you the job on the spot!  If you go this route, be sure to bring your documents with you and references if you have any.  You could also offer to do a demo lesson which might really impress them.  Admittedly this way is more labor intensive and is more suited to bigger cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and a handful of other places but it can be very effective in putting you ahead of other candidates and getting a job quickly.
  • Browse the usual Facebook groups and websites like Ajarn.com, looking for ads that explicitly mention that it is the school itself posting the ad. Good indicators include the email address belonging to the school English department or the English program director.
  • Post in expat groups asking local teachers if they know of any job openings as most fellow teaching expats are more than happy to help out. You can also ask them their honest opinion about the school, teaching conditions, salary expectations, holidays, the director, etc. Talking to a current teacher is always a smart thing to do before you make a decision to sign on at any school.
  • If you are already working at a school and are on good terms with your Thai teachers or even better, your director, you can ask them if they know a teacher or director at a school in the area you want to go teach next. I’ve personally seen this done and if I choose to continue working in Thailand after my current contract expires, I would use this route in addition to the other methods I listed above.

I hope this helps and has opened your eyes a little to see the truth behind working for an agency.  That is not to say all agencies in Thailand are bad, my first job here in Thailand was with Mediakids and I would recommend them, but overall it simply makes more sense to work directly and can save you a lot of hassle down the road.  Let me know of your agency horror stories and any other ways you know how to find jobs directly with the school.

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The Winds of Change…

Next week will be my last week here in Chok Chai before I start my new job March 7th.  Originally I had planed with renewing with my current company and going to a high school in Nong Kai, the border crossing point with Laos. But out of interest, and second thoughts with renewing with the company, I went on to Ajarn.com and found a school in Trat offering a year long contract with  paid vacation time, 2hrs from Koh Chang, and near Cambodia, I decided to apply.

A couple hours after I sent an email to the agent, responsible for liaising between applicants and the school, she replied and we set up an interview for the next work day.  The interview went well and after some negotiating on the start date, I was offered the job!  What this job means is that now I will still be teaching high school students but now on a full year contract with opportunity to go to Koh Chang and Cambodia on the weekends.

The other upside of moving to Trat is that it is big enough to actually have a gym and, cross fingers, apparently a muay Thai gym.  Last year on my travels I went to Pai where I spent a month doing muay Thai training and fell in love with it which awoke my desire to get in better shape.  So I’m hoping with this move I can focus more on getting fit and taking steps toward one of my bucket list items, to eventually have a muay Thai fight.  That goal is a long way away but I’m excited to be getting back on track.

From March 7th to April 8th I will work at the new school until the end of school semester.  From what I understand I will just be proctoring exams, marking them, and planning lessons for the next semester starting in May. In between then I aim to go to Koh Chang for a weekend; so expect a post on that and the subsequent feelings of beach envy if you are not so lucky to be in warmer climes.

My 1 month vacation time promises to be fun.  On the evening of April 8th I’ll be headed to Bangkok for the night before catching a plane to Chiang Mai early the next day.  In Chiang Mai for the 9-10th I’ll be participating in the 10th annual Chiang Mai Ulitmate Frisbee Hat tournament.  Back in Korea I used to play in the ROK U frisbee league so I’m psyched to get back on the field of battle catching hammers (a type of frisbee throw, not a literal hammer!).  Playing in an ‘international’ ultimate frisbee is another one of my bucket-list items which will make this an even more special experience for me.  At the same time someone special to me from Korea will be coming to visit and celebrate Songkran with me in Chiang Mai.  After the tournament and a few water soaked days of Songkran in Chiang Mai, my guest and I will head back down to Trat for a day before finishing up in Koh Chang for a few days.

On the 18th I will head to Bangkok with my guest where I will catch a flight to Abu Dhabi to visit my father for the remainder of my vacation.  There I will adopt  2/3 of Mike ‘The Situation’ from Jersey Shore famous GTL.  I’ll be hitting up the gym and tanning by the pool by day and relaxing by night. I’ll be there until May 6th when I’ll be returning to Thailand in time for the next semester.

Good times ahead then!  I hope you’re on the road to reaching your goals, whatever they may be and that you stay tuned for some exciting posts over the next couple months; Koh Chang, life in Trat, ultimate frisbee and Songkran in Chiang Mai, and Abu Dhabi. Peace and love!

Vang Vieng: Lost in the Laotian jungle

Now If you read my previous article about my first foray into Laos you know it did not go well.  This time, my story is even more extreme and as is almost expected, a lot of extreme Laos stories begin in Vang Vieng while tubing down the Nam Song river.

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Goofy sunglasses and two awesome self-proclaimed piratz

I could easily start this post off with the tale of how I came to be lost in the Laotian jungle but I’m sure you have a rough idea judging from what you’ve read about Vang Vieng and what goes on there while tubing, even if it is genuinely not as wild as it was in years gone past.   In my case I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to go tubing because it was the rainy season when I went and this meant buckets of rain, high water levels, and a much stronger current.  On that day however the weather was gloriousFor the sake of it, my day went like this; wake up, eat breakfast, pre-drink with my French and Italian friends Louly and Fabio, get to the first bar, drink, second bar, drink more, third bar, drink even more, fourth bar, etc.  Also I went tubing between bars.  And then on the way to the next (last?) bar my night began.

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The sound of the rushing river and the buzz of mosquitoes filled my ears when it dawned on me: I was stranded in the Laotian mangroves with nothing but my tube, a broken lighter, a dead cell phone, not even a dollar of Laotian Kip, and no idea how far I was from the nearest settlement. But let me rewind the story a little to give you the full picture.

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Having got pretty drunk on the legendary Vang Vieng river bar circuit, or rather what is left of it, I climbed into my tube as the sun light began to die. I got separated from my friends Louly and Fabio because of the strong river currents and very quickly I was alone. The river was much faster because of the rainy season. As I called out my friend’s names and noticed that I was alone on the river and being sucked by the current off course. I began to get worried. Now, I don’t know if I was on the right course or not but it certainly felt like I was off course and although I could see lights down the river I made the decision to pull myself to shore and walk to the lights. This turned out to be the wrong decision but give me a break, I was drunk.

After paddling to the riverbank, several branches broke before I managed to find a strong vine and pull myself to shore. I was sitting on a sandbar in the mangroves and exhausted and no idea what to do. I looked up and saw a 6 or 7ft tall wall of mud and felt despondent at the idea of having to climb it and get my tube over it as well. With only some light left I did my best to get the fuck out of there.

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Somehow I managed to climb over the sandbank using vines and branches and began to claw and tear my way through the thick undergrowth. I came across what I figured were paths so I decided to stick to them. The paths were in places up to 2ft deep filled with mud and water. Eventually I tossed the tube because I figured I should care more about my own safety rather than trying to get a $12 deposit back, plus it was a bitch to carry while I tried to navigate the path. My sandals however I would have liked to keep, but still being drunk, they kept falling off and getting stuck in the mud, slowing me down and so they too were jettisoned. While I squelched through the mud barefoot I firmly banished from my mind the thought getting bitten by a snake, scorpion, spider, or any other critter.

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I don’t know how long I searched for the place I saw off in the distance while I was on the river but I had no luck finding it. In the dark the paths seemed to intertwine with the mangrove swamp and with a more bushy and thick grass kind of area. In the bushy area I would see what looked like a hill or a side of a road and as I kept moving through this area I realised there wasn’t a road nearby and my only point of reference was the river. It was at that point I thought I could hear music so I persisted in navigating through the grass and bushes even while I became covered in cuts and scratches from thorny bushes and branches. After some time either I had wandered too far away from the music to hear it or it had stopped, I felt it was time to double back the way I came the best I could and find a spot on the river to spend the night.

Initially I went back into the water to see if it was possible to swim across where I could see there was some kind of buildings but decided the river was simply far, far, too strong. Too tired to climb out I had half my body in the water to escape the mosquitoes and I attempted to sleep. Every so often I’d get the strange sensation that I was getting nibbled at by little fish or leeches and so I climbed out and tried to sleep. That was when it started to rain.

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I was only in a tank top and swimming shorts and so I began to shiver from the heavy rain. That was probably the darkest moment for me. I knew I was in the jungle at least until the next day and there was nothing I could do about it. I kept telling myself that I’d get out of this situation and I’d laugh about it over beers. While I told myself that, I knew I was in for a long night. I crouched in a ball with my arms covering my head from the worst of the mosquitoes and whatever else drank my blood that night. I knew that at first light I had to jump into action and follow the paths to where ever they went, no matter how far. Those trench-like paths were going to be key to escape my situation.

Gradually, slowly but surely, the sun began to rose. As soon as I knew for certain I’d be able to see where I was going, I bolted through the jungle, sloshing through the mud, getting more cuts and scratches, but determined to end my unintended jungle expedition.

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I followed one path right up to a single piece of barbed wire stretching across the jungle. Now for those who don’t know, as a legacy of the Vietnam War, Laos is the most bombed country in the world and is still littered with landmines. At that point I was not ready to cross the Rubicon so to speak and I turned around. Going back the way I came I went even further and this time found some hope to fuel my determination. I came across a small fishing shack, deserted, but a good sign. Past the shack I came across fences made from bamboo and plants with huge razor sharp thorns sticking out at me. Then I crossed a stream that had a piece of wood across it and finally I crossed another makeshift bridge to come discover I was in the middle of a rice paddy. With no one in sight I decided I would have to take the risk and go back the way I came to the barbed wire.

Back at the barbed wire I could see the path proceeded past it and further on into the jungle. I ducked underneath it and stuck to the path. At that point I came to another set of barbed wire, this time there were two. I stopped and decided I’d do some recon and check out the paths closer to the river between the barbed wire zone. At the river I gave up completely on the idea of swimming it and slowly approached the second set of barbed wires and climbed through them.

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By that point I was thinking of a number of worse case scenarios 1) I could be walking into a mine field 2) there could be booby traps set by whoever made the paths to keep trespassers like me out or 3) I would get to a field full of marijuana and be shot dead like the tourists in the movie The Beach. With the ad reline pumping I walked down the path and to my delight I saw a bunch of cows and chickens. Never had I been happier to see cows and chickens. Walking past them I could see some houses and then a woman. I cried out ‘hello’ and began waving at her as I walked towards her. She stopped and called out to other people. One by one people began to emerge from little houses, clearly a small farming hamlet. None of them spoke English and one man with a half scarred face seemed to size me up when he saw my waterproof pouch with my dead cracked smart phone in it. Eventually a boy came out, no older than 15 or 16 who could speak some English. He told me would take me back to Vang Vieng.

Getting back to Vang Vieng was not so simple. We walked towards the river and I could see that to get across the river we would be taking a pulley barge that went back and forth. It was me, the boy, a man, and a woman, possibly his parents or family members. Back on dry land I clambered up the rocky path barefoot when the boy told me to wait for him to go fetch a motorbike. Within a couple of minutes he was back and we were off again.

With the sun starting to really shine and the feeling that my ordeal was over a smile crossed my face. At the hostel I talked a little with the boy but sadly I forgot his name, spending a night in the jungle will do that to you when all you want is to be back in your room safe and sound in bed. Although he didn’t ask for money I knew it was the right thing to do. I went back to my room quickly and gave him 60,000 KIP, or about $10, and he thanked me and off he went.

In the room I put my phone on charge, miraculously it seemed to still work, mumbled a few words to my sleeping friend Louly, and collapsed into bed. When everyone else woke up a couple hours later one of the guys in the room says to me ‘so you’re Sean the guy I’ve heard so much about. I overheard a little of your story, what happened?’ I told him the story and he responded by saying that while some people go to Laos, I DID Laos, truly by having survived a night in the Laotian jungle.

I spent much of the day recuperating and relaxing and at night after I had told the story to a few people I could finally sit down with a beer and laugh about the whole thing. I had survived a night lost in the Laotian jungle.

Hope you enjoyed my epic tale.  I’ve read on other blogs that other people had similar stories to mine, are you one of them? How was your Vang Vieng tubing experience?

 

Visa run to Vientiane

A common part of life of an expat is the dreaded visa run.  A visa run is basically a journey to another country to renew, extend, or get a new visa.  In my case and many other teachers in Thailand, I had to leave the country to change from a tourist visa to a work visa.  Most expats head north or south depending on their location; south to Penang, Malaysia, or north to Vientiane, Laos. Due to me being out in the Isan countryside, my visa run was to Vientiane, a place I visited last September (and got left at the border!)  This post will give you a rough outline of what to expect and my own experience.

So I set off from my town Chok Chai around 5:30pm and got a bus to Nakhon Ratchasima (Karot).  There I hung out at the mall for a couple hours and got some food. Then I headed off to the Save One market.  This market is open air for the most part and simply HUGE and it is possible to buy just about anything. After another couple hours in the cold (did I mention that during the days of my visa run it was crazy cold for Thailand, like 10-12c) I waited for my bus at the meeting point.  Eventually my bus arrived sometime after 10pm, late, after seeing many buses just stop and leave without me, I finally got out of the cold and crawled over the other passengers to find a place at the back of the bus next to a lovely French-Japanese saleswoman.  We talked on and off about our love of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and other great shows before both deciding to at least try get some sleep.

Along the way to the border you will stop several times for bathroom breaks (and in our case a chance to hide in the warmth of 711s).  The stops will also give you a chance to meet your other visa runners.  Ours was mostly Filipinos, South Africans, the French-Japanese lady, and a pair of British guys.  Depending on the people in your group, it will make or break the time spent on your visa run.

Depending on how many stops you make, the quality of your driver, where your journey starts (typically Bangkok), how many additional stops you make to pick up other visa runners (like my situation), and other factors, you will probably get to the Thai border town of Nhong Kai an hour or 2 before the border actually opens.  We just used that opportunity to buy more snacks and try awkwardly sleep in uncomfortable positions crammed in next to everyone else.

Around 6am you will see a massive crowd of people beginning to mill around the closed barrier.  You will then be given a tag which has the name of your visa run company so you won’t get lost in the growing horde.  When your group goes through the barrier you will get to the immigration check point building.  If you have overstayed your Thai visa you will go to a room on the left to pay and go through the border that way to link up with everyone else who go past the regular windows.

Once on the other side you will be driven directly to the Thai consulate, only a 30 minute drive thankfully, and there you will give over your passport and visa documents.  After that you head back to the hotel, solidifying friendships made during the night over breakfast, then you’ll sleep.  A lot of people tend to just sleep all day and come alive at night.  Not my group.  After only arriving at the hotel around 10am or so I went to sleep but was then woken by my new friends around 1:30pm to grab lunch.

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As you can see, the weather was a bit cold and drab but it didn’t dampen our spirits.  Our group consisted of 2 South Africans, A Swede, the French-Japanese lady, a Brit, and myself.  Only myself and the Brit had been to Vientiane before but we insisted on taking us into the center of town to find a restaurant but in the end I convinced the group we head to the river front where I knew for certain there were restaurants from my time here back in September.

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We settled upon a place called Little Hanoi, the food might not have been the greatest but the big Beer Laos certainly helped foster the budding sense of camaraderie in our group.  I should also say that the Lao kip currency is near worthless outside of Laos and it is hard to find somewhere to exchange it.  Thai baht and US dollars are widely accepted in Laos and you can even get most of our change back in Thai baht.

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Preserved lizards and scorpions, common sight in Southeast Asia

Feeling better after lunch and beer in our bellies we headed off to the night market which was setting up by that point in the afternoon. We wandered around looking for warmer clothes to buy mostly but the fact it was cold and we were foreigners only meant their prices were even higher than usual.  I came close to buying a couple different sweaters and coats but ultimately I thought they were too small or overpriced. Becoming thirsty again, we took a tuk tuk to a bar that the British guy insisted upon.

 

For dinner we then headed out out to an Indian restaurant (trust foreigners to go to another country and not eat the local cuisine ha!), had more beers, then headed back to the hotel.  The ride back to the hotel was fun in and of itself; we were feeling merry and singing and humming the Game of Thrones theme song, Star Wars, and our national anthems much to the bemusement of everyone within earshot as we passed by in our little tuk tuk.  You’d think that after being cooped up in a van all night we’d be exhausted, we were but the night was only just beginning.

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Picture of Ho Chi Minh AKA Uncle Ho in the lobby of the hotel

Back at the hotel the dinning hall had turned into a karaoke party.  The Filipinos were unquestionably the best singers of the night.  Our group took turns singing solo or sharing a song but mostly we kept to the craic and downed bottles of Beer Lao and Hong Thong Thai whiskey.  One by one we slowly crawled up to our rooms to pass out in preparation for the long journey back to Thailand.

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The next morning was rough…I was late to breakfast and hate to eat the cold leftovers….then I went downstairs to find the rest of my group and chat with them at a cafe before returning to the hotel for lunch; lukewarm pad Thai and spaghetti with coca cola to wash it down.

From there we climbed into a mini bus and hung out at the duty free shop at the Lao-Thai border.  I was still exhausted and prompted found a quiet corner and slept for a couple hours before we had to go through Lao customs on our way out.  A another bus took us across the Mekong river where we waited to get our passports back before entering Thailand.

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At the Thailand customs we just filled out a Thai entry form, answered a couple questions at the front of the line to an official, went through, had our bags go through an x-ray then wait for the rest of our group to get through. After that we got on ANOTHER bus, this one taking us Nhong Kai where we waited on the first day.  At Nhong Kai we loaded up on snacks, found our van, said our goodbyes, and headed home.

So if you have to do a visa run I HIGHLY suggest you do it through a visa agency as it is much less painful and infuriating if you do it that way.  Mine cost 6,800 baht which included 3 meals, a hotel room, the buses, and the cost of the Thai and Lao visas.  Mine was actually 300 baht more than the regular cost because I’m a Canadian citizen.  Go with Meesuk Travel if you need to do a visa run, they know what they are doing and I have no complaints whatsoever and highly recommend them as did everyone on my trip. I met great people who I hope to stay in touch with and meet again, possibly on another visa run (!), had some great times, and I’m thankful I now have my work visa!!!

Ever been on a visa run? What was it like? Where did you go? What company do you suggest? Drop a comment and let me know!

A Change of Scenery: Thailand

Having been frustrated with the pickiness and unreliability of the schools I was interviewing for jobs in Korea I decided to post a resume on ajarn.com .  A day later I got an email from a teacher placement agency for schools in Thailand asking for an interview.  What the hell, I’ll take the interview, I thought.

A day later, the interview was very straightforward and I felt it was more or less to check my character and comfort level of moving to Thailand. Having backpacked and volunteered there, not to mention having been in Thailand as recently as October, I feel no stranger to the country. I confirmed the next day that I would take the job. That was December 24th. It is now December 28th and I am now in Bangkok preparing to teach high school kids in a small town out in the Thai countryside.

I decided to take the job in Thailand because although it may not compare to South Korea financially, it does offer me a chance to gain experience teaching older children in an age group that is hard to get into in Korea without being in the EPIK program. Not only does the job give me the chance to teach high school children, it also gives me the chance to teach big classes.  Why does the chance to teach big classes interest me? Because it gives me the opportunity to build the necessary confidence, skills, and experience I need to manage classes of similar sizes at the university level. It is my ambition to teach English at universities once I obtain my masters. Thai public high school classes can be up to 50 students!! Pretty daunting. So it is only natural that I’m spending the days before I start teaching (January 4th) reading up on how to manage classrooms of that size and generally preparing mentally for the challenges ahead.

The other positives of the job is that it will give me new opportunities to build this blog as well as to hopefully get back into muay Thai training. I look forward to sharing updates on the teaching and living situation once I start work. Until then, keep an eye out for the improvements I will be making to the blog, namely working on the backpacking guides as well as adding a guide to teaching in Thailand! Thanks for stopping by!

 

Introduction

Hello everyone, thanks for coming to visit my travel and ESL teaching blog! I just want to say that I will be posting a variety of different things related to the topics of this blog and occasionally other interesting things that I get up to in my life as a backpacking teacher.

One of the aims of this blog is to show people it is indeed possible to embark on a life of travel and still live comfortably. I myself have been living the backpacking teaching lifestyle for almost 2 years now and I can honestly say that it has more than fulfilled my wanderlust and desire to make a living from ESL teaching and if you can draw inspiration from my posts and start your own adventure, I will know I have succeeded.

Obviously it is early days for the blog but I hope you can understand that I am still new to this and that at times my blog may be a bit rough around the edges but over time it will get better as I master the ins and outs of this undertaking. I should also add that by visiting my blog now in its early stages you will be able to see its transformation over time as it grows as opposed to coming across the final polished product of some of the other major travel blogs online. Help the little guys out and throw me your support 😛

Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back frequently! 🙂